Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
Artwork by Aviva Yunger
February 13-March 13, 2005
Bergen County Y
605 Pascack Road, Washington, NJ
The first question a viewer ought to pose regarding any work of art that includes text is: if we strip you of your text, are you significantly changed? And if the change is simply a superficial, external one, do we truly need that text? In the visual arts, the onus lies upon any embedded text to justify itself, just as it lies on any images that find their way into literary texts.
Texts have a habit of attaching themselves to the host and sucking the aesthetic life out of it. The choice technique of extraction involves “narrative.” Narrative refers to the story of the painting. Painters like Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and Frederic Remington really engage in illustration or storytelling and, though their work hardly includes significant text portions, their work is much more about a text than about forms. In specific, Remington’s paintings find themselves fascinated far more by the notion of horses than by particular browns, reds, diagonals and curves; in fact, he sees the horse as coincidentally featuring forms and colors and lines as opposed to the opposite model which offers a far more promising aesthetic.
Much Judaica suffers the same condition. If the abstract watercolor painting contains “Next Year in Jerusalem” stenciled in handsome, round calligraphy across the bottom, its aesthetic sins are forgiven and it magically transforms into Judaica before the viewer’s very eyes, and the viewer is expected to overlook poor craftsmanship. The same holds for many Menorahs and Kiddush cups. All too often, the forms are not organic and aesthetically correct, because viewers let them cover up their technique with the literalness of the subject matter.
And yet, this discussion somehow seems to apply to Judaica, but not “Kabbalica”. By “Kabbalica” I refer to those pieces that are ritual objects, but involve Kabbalah instead of Jewish narratives. Aviva Yunger’s work fits in this category, and the pieces seem to use text in such a central role that their visual currency is more a synthesis of image and text, almost like a graphic novel. They seem to resist any of the previous nomenclature, precisely because they exhibit a different sense of textuality. Where text serves as a nametag in Judaica that refers to the image, in Kabbalica, the text is more inherent.
Viewers delight in successfully identifying Judaica – that is a mezuzah, this is a challah tray – and the text confirms the viewers original estimation – yes, this is a mezuzah because it contains G-d’s Name and the Shema. This literal game of “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” works for Judaica in the utilitarian sense, but it is not high art. Kabbalica, on the other hand, uses text as image and image as text. A letter yod carries geometric implications: it is a point without coordinates and thus suggests certain notions of transcendent knowledge, while the letters of the word sukkah – samech, kaf, heh – suggest the architectural structure of the sukka’s framework (two and a half walls, three walls or four walls). The form follows the content.
Yunger’s work reflects this notion of useful text that creates rather than refers. Take the mixed media collage “The Hand of G-d” (2002). This collage on hand-made paper contains a sliced composition with red and green. The red is bright, almost a Crayola primary red, while the green has a lot of brown and yellow in it, and thus has a muddy feel to it. A hamsa (hand) floats in the middle of the composition, and it looks as if it could double as a flying dove, if needed.
The names of the 12 tribes and corresponding stones adorn the hand, and the picture has an overall illustrative quality to it with the hamsa floating in the middle, rarely interacting with the paper’s boundaries. Yunger says she created this image because her seven-year-old daughter once said to her, “Mommy, I think that the hand of G-d would be beautiful on this paper.”
This raises several questions about inspiration and about image making. Firstly, Yunger aims to teach with her art. She uses her Kabbalistic art to educate her audience about energies, about meaning, and about spiritual universes. This type of art carries a 19th century Romantic notion of the artist conveying personalized messages. Where the Classicists and the neo-Classicists tried to divorce themselves from their work – an aesthetic form of journalistic objectivity or a camera lens – the Romantics felt that they wanted to convey precisely those personal feelings that they held as individuals. This creates advantages and disadvantages. Many viewers (probably many Ashkenazi viewers) see potential heresy in a Kabbalistic vocabulary. How dare she try to portray G-d’s hand, many will say.
When Yunger speaks of seeing Hebrew letters in her dreams and capturing them on paper, she adopts a vocabulary that is foreign to many viewers. The disadvantage is tremendous potential for alienation; the advantage is the very same potential for education.
Ana Bechoach has a black magic feel to it, almost like the artist scratching into the black surface to reveal buried colors beneath. The impasto application of the materials recalls that of Georges Rouault, and the yellow substance surrounding the words has a waxy feel to it. The first letter of each word is enlarged to reveal the aleph-bet structure of the poem. To Yunger, “The prayer consists of seven sentences which correspond to the seven levels of spirituality. By reciting Ana Bechoach, one connects with the 42 encoded Names of G-d.”
Situated somewhat more vertically than the others, Keriat Shema shows a hamsa in a form that looks human. The border involves intricate flowery yellow detail, lending the image an Indian or Persian miniature quality with the inside space rendered a deep maroon. The text of Shema surrounds the hamsa and illustrates Yunger’s notion that, “Each word of the Shema corresponds to one of the organs of the human body,” Yunger literally maps out the text as a body.
It is Connection that carries the exhibits title. This image contains a wide variety of textures that, upon further inspection, turn out to be letters, candles and gravestones. Yunger reveals that the image features Hanukkah candles, Shabbos candles and the gravesite of sages. “This piece is a visual reminder of some simple physical actions that are available to us; its intent is to assist us in connecting or tapping into higher energy levels,” Yunger says.
Ultimately, it appears that the vertical lines in Connection are really what Yunger is talking about. The internal structures – whether spiritual, mystical, organic – tie together seemingly disparate elements. Yunger’s lines draw together text and image, icon and form, in a grand machine that aims at producing an aesthetic, as well as an educational experience. Most interestingly, though, it demands a reevaluation of our vocabulary with which to engage text and image.
Moreover, if we are to allow the images to speak, we must allow for an occasionally blurry boundary in which images sometimes slip into text and text slips into image, and where aesthetics, spirituality and education are sometimes indistinguishable from one another.
Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the “Yeshiva University Commentator”. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at email@example.com.
For more information on Aviva Yunger, visit http://avivayunger.com/.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Over 350 people celebrated the engagement of Fire Commissioner Andrew Friedman and his fiancé, Chanie Herskovic, at their Hancock Park home Sunday.
Practically to his last days the patriarchal founder was at his office almost daily and took an active interest in all matters connected with the business.
“You want to know what this wine looked like, which wine King David drank, white or red…. We can see if it’s red or white, strong or weak.”
I should be pursuing plateaus of pure and holy, but I’m busy delving and developing palatable palates instead.
Brown argues that this wholehearted living must extend into our parenting.
If we truly honor the other participants in a conversation, we can support, empathize with, and even celebrate their feelings.
I witnessed the true strength of Am Yisrael during those few days.
“There are no people on earth as foolish as you who deny the Living God.”
She writes intuitively, freely, and only afterwards understands the meaning of what she has written.
“I knew it was a great idea, a win-win situation for everyone,” said Burstein.
Not knowing any better, I assumed that Molly and her mother must be voracious readers.
The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”
It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.
One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)
Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.
It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.
Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.
The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?
Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/kabbalica-aviva-yunger-to-show-at-the-bergen-county-y/2005/02/09/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: